Ethical Issues in Stem Cell Research

The ethical problem behind stem cell research raises so many ethical dissuasions. Some say that human beings do not have the right to intervene on the duty of god. Some others say that stem cell research is against religious values. Some others say that stem cell research will lead to organ trade and the doctors will become traders. From the beginning itself, science, especially research and experiment on the human body was under strict restriction. Earlier doctors were not allowed to postmortem the human body because it was against morality. Bu to defend against deadly diseases, it is essential to study the anatomy of the human body. Stem Cell research is a new technology in the field of modern medicine. The medical world is considered Stem Cell research provides great hope for various treatments and cures for some of the severe diseases like heart diseases, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Stem Cell research technology emerges in the 1960s with the contributions of Canadian scientists Ernest A. McCulloch and James E. Till. Stem Cell research raises some serious ethical problems. At first a group of researchers argues that Stem Cell research accelerates the possibility of human cloning. Religious people and opponents of Stem Cell research argue that man has no right to manufacture, destroy human life. Another important ethical issue related to Stem Cell research is the origin of life. A number of people believe that the use of embryos for researches is absolutely unethical and they argue that it is against the law of nature. Even in the presence of disadvantages it is acceptable that they have the great potential benefit and they should be used for the benefit of others. James A. Thomson and others in their report namely- ‘Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Blastocysts’ point out that the testing on embryonic cells are under strict restriction. This restriction is due to the ethical and practical reasons to create chimeras.

“For ethical and practical reasons, in many primate species, including humans, the ability of ES cells to contribute to the germ line in chimeras is not a testable property.”(James A. Thomson and others, 6 November 1998, Available at:-

The right to conduct scientific experiments must not be misused for the creation of chimeras. This causes so ethical and practical problems. The human embryos that are donated for research must not be misused for other research purposes. If stem cell research is not allowed to proceed forward unrestricted, future generations will suffer because it is able to cure a vast assortment of diseases and a variety of medical complications.

The issues on the Ethical Issues in Stem Cell Research are helpful for the development of stem cell research. The important issues on stem cell research in America are discussed below.

The Value of the Embryo /Embryos are non-viable before implantation

The issue that the Value of the Embryo /Embryo is non-viable before implantation is raised by a large number of people. Their opinion is that embryo and fetuses are similar to human beings and they too have the right to live. The embryo which is in any stage of growth is considered similar to a human being. The use of embryos for research decreases the dignity and respect for human life. There is a high chance for an embryo to grow into an adult. The paper- ‘Human embryo: a biological definition’ by J.K. Findlay and others makes Clear that the definition given to a human embryo must reflect the development process of the same. It can be seen that fertilization and development of the embryo are not static so the status given to an embryo that is implanted in a uterus or used for research purposes must not be considered equal. If they are considered equal to a human being, both must be considered under the human rights act. The use of human embryos for research purposes must be considered in a different aspect.

“This acknowledges that fertilization and development are not static processes, and as such embryo status can only be defined by observation of specific markers” (J.K. Findlay, M.L. Gear, P.J. Illingworth, S.M. Junk, G. Kay, A.H. Mackerras, A. Pope, H.S. Rothenfluh and L. Wilton, 2006).

There is a difference in growth because both the embryos grow in different conditions. The treatment and care that is given to an embryo that is in uterus are different because there is high chance for it to grow into a baby. But the embryo used in research is under experimentation and after use it is destroyed. It can be seen that the aim behind the growth of both the embryos is different so their status as human embryo is different. The argument in favor of an embryo in research is that it is an individual when it is implanted in the uterus. When it is out side the uterus, it cannot be considered as an individual and there is no violation of human rights. The counter argument is that the blastocygot cells are pre-embryo so they must be protected by the same rights that are given to a developing embryo. When one considers this issue from the view point of a doctor or researcher, it is good. But when one approaches this issue from the side of an individual, the use of embryo is unethical.

Therapeutic cloning will lead to more unethical practices

Therapeutic cloning makes explosive growth in the field of medicine especially in ailments such as Parkinson’s diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis diabetes mellitus, etc. The process of Therapeutic cloning is based on ‘reproductive cloning.’ It means removing of nucleus for making duplicate cells. Here it is possible that to produce any tissue of the body and against a dented tissue of a patient by changing the dented tissue with the therapeutically cloned tissue. A number of people argue that the proposed research is unethical. They point out that the formation of embryos is for research, which is not allowed even in communities and the majority of countries. “Therapeutic cloning as a means to improve and save lives has uncontroversial moral value. As to human reproductive cloning, we consider and assess some common objections and failing to see them as conclusive.” (Miss S Camporesi, 2008).

When one considers the moral value of therapeutic cloning, the controversies or ethical problems become irrelevant. The new age is with many deadly diseases and medical science is in a dilemma. The task of medical science is to help doctors to save valuable lives. The innovation in medical field i.e., therapeutic cloning is an attempt to discover new modes of treatment. There will be controversies and problems on stem cell research but the moral value of innovation and the motive behind it should be considered as a fact. When one is suffering from dreadful disease, the aim of medical science must be the best treatment. The embryonic stem cells that are collected from human body can use for treatment in the future. So, the argument that Therapeutic cloning will lead to more unethical practices is without any evidence and against medical ethics. Healthy discussions on this issue can resolve all the misunderstandings and future years are for innovative experiments in Therapeutic cloning.

Should “spare and low-grade” embryos be dispensed rather than used for research?

Spare embryos are embryos left frozen in fertilization clinics. The embryos are graded on the basis of quality. The embryos that are considered as low grade are not used for implantation. Some people, who are against the use of spare embryos for research purpose argues that it, result in lack of respect for human life. The embryo that is grown into a human being must not be used for research purposes because it is disrespectful to human life and is a violation of human rights. Moreover, the commercialization of embryos may lead to the exploitation of women and to it decreases the respect for human life. In the research paper-‘Sources of human embryos for stem cell research: ethical problems and their possible solutions’, Kristina Hug evaluate the issues on using “spare” human embryos for research purpose. She further adds that the spare embryos or embryos that are created for research purpose is destructed. “destruction of the embryos, either “spare” or created for research, is inevitable, since there is an international consensus that embryos used for research must not be inserted in the womb of a woman.” (Kristina Hug, 2005). The international consensus on embryos points out that the embryos used for research must not be used for reproductive purposes. But some others who are in favor of embryo research point out that there is no reason to believe that it decreases human respect. Moreover, it is equal to embryo fertilization treatment. In embryo fertilization treatment, the spare embryos are destroyed but in embryo research the spare embryos are used. When one considers embryo research as unethical, treatment foe infertility is also unethical. The use of human embryos for research is accepted because its aim is noble. The research is helpful for better use of embryos that are considered as spare. The spare embryos that are left over from fertility treatment are with no use and its use in embryo research is more ethical. So the use of human embryos in research field is not unethical and it helps humanity to defend against deadly diseases.

Donor’s consent and untimely withdrawal of consent at the cost of research

Donor’s consent and untimely withdrawal of consent at the cost of research is an issue that aims to protect the donor’s rights. The issue is who should obtain consent and does the donor has the right to withdraw the consent. The government is of the opinion that donors should give consent for the use of their biological specimens in research works. The authority behind the consent is proposed to be a clinician from a fertility clinic. The reason behind the issue is that some donors fear that their egg is used for other research purposes which are considered unethical and immoral. The donor possesses the right to know the purpose and motive of the donation of egg cells. In organ donation, the donor has the right to withdraw the consent. It is illogical and human right violation to say that donors of egg cells for research purposes do not have the right to withdraw consent. At the same time, the right of the donor to withdraw consent must be limited. The withdrawal of consent may create huge financial loss. To make sure that both the rights of the donor and the aim of research are protected, unique consent rules are to be applied to the area of stem cell research. The research article-‘Informed consent in embryonic stem cell research: Are we following basic principles?’ by Timothy Caulfield, Ubaka Ogbogu, Rosario M. Isasi makes clear that unique consent rules are to be applied to stem cell research and the issues related can be solved. “If unique consent rules are to be applied to this area of research, the rationales for the approach need to be clearly articulated and reconciled with existing principles of consent and research ethics.” (Timothy Caulfield, Ubaka Ogbogu, Rosario M. Isasi, June 5, 2007,). The existing principles of consent and research ethics are to be reconciled and further additions may help to resolve the problems. To limit donation of egg cells to the people those who no longer require the same for reproductive purpose is a preventive measure. Before accepting donations, the researchers must satisfy the research ethics boards that regulate stem cell research. Another problem is the influence of physicians on patients to donate their embryos. Some of the physicians exploit the influence on their patients for financial benefits. The guidelines and policy statements on consent are different I different countries. Some countries protect the rights of the donor and some other countries are eager to protect the interest of the researchers. For example, in Canada the treating physician should be the person to obtain consent. The physician has the duty to provide enough information for the patient to take the right decision. But the financial assistance provided to infertility specialists creates problems. When a physician is in need of financial benefit, he/she may forget the medical ethics and influence the patients to donate their embryo. When the researchers are not ready to abide by the terms and conditions of donation, it is better to protect the rights of the donor. But the right of withdrawal of consent must be limited to a limited time period. The labor of the researchers must be considered in this issue. If the withdrawal is not limited the research work will fail to meet its aim. The agreement between the researcher and the donor must not be violated from the side of the researcher. It may lead to further problems. The donation of an embryo helps the physician to have more health information about the donor and it is a health record. So, it is evident that donor’s consent is so important in research and its untimely withdrawal at the cost of research will cause financial loss.

The creation of hybrids of humans and animals is an unethical and unnatural practice

The creation of hybrids of humans and animals is under criticism because it is considered unethical and unnatural. Medical ethics makes clear that any treatment or experiment on the human body must be under strict safety measures. When a new medicine is developed, it is tested in animals not in human body. Now the development in medical field especially in embryonic cell research had proved that it is possible to create chimera, composed of genetically distinct types of cells (human and non-human). The argument against this experiment is, it may lead to the creation of non human animals. They point out that it violates nature’s law, is against morality, and is against human respect and dignity. -‘It is ethical to transplant human stem cells into nonhuman embryos’ by Karpowicz, Philip, Cynthia B. Cohen, and Derek van der Kooy makes clear that “ Several studies have already been done, and have provided no evidence that prenatal chimeric transplants of human stem cells result in the emergence of any humanized features in non human hosts.“ (Karpowicz, Philip, Cynthia B. Cohen, and Derek van der Kooy, 2004.) Earlier, blood donation and organ donation were considered unethical but not it is common. Really, transplantation of human cells into prenatal non human animals is helpful to study human cell development. Earlier, human embryos were used to conduct experiments but now it is possible to use animals. This reduces the risk of experiments in human embryo. But these sort of experiments raise sensitive public opinion and is considered as unethical. The experiments that cannot be conducted in human beings can conduct in animals and this helps to understand more about the growth and development of human cells in another medium. Moreover, the problem of immune rejection during organ transplantation is no more an issue because there is less chance for the same. Some scientists argue that the consequences of these experiments ultimately benefit human beings. But there must be some restrictions on the Creation of hybrids of humans and animals. Limited number of human cells used in experiments reduces the degree of humanization. The transfer of psychological characteristics associated with human brains to animals must be restricted. The aim of embryonic cell research is to reengineering unhealthy human tissues so limited experimentation on human and animal bodies is not against human dignity and morality.

Obama’s views on stem cell research

Lastly, in light of our new president elect I would like to talk about obama’s views on stem cell research and what this could mean for the future of stem cell research. At the Science Debate 2008, Barack Obama disclosed that he is in favor of stem cell research. He pointed out that, unrestricted funding must be provided to stem cell research in America. He is of the opinion that stem cell research proved its ability by treating many chronic diseases and plays its noble role in saving life. He listed out possible uses for embryonic stem cells in the future. He strongly supported the research and is happy on the development of the same. He is of the opinion that, lack of funding in the field of embryonic stem cell research may keep America far behind in international research. The article- ‘McCain, Obama Defend Embryonic Stem Cell Research’ makes clear that funding problems in research hindered our ability to compete with other countries “hindered our ability to compete with other nations,” he said. As president, Obama guaranteed he would ensure all research on stem cells is conducted “ethically and with rigorous oversight.” ” (McCain, Obama Defend Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Kathleen Gilbert, Friday September 19, 2008, He guaranteed that all the research on embryo stem cells will be conducted with ethical validation. He further added that the embryos that are stored for research purposes will not be used for reproductive purposes. The embryos that are stored in-vitro fertilization clinics are donated for research purposes so there is no ethical problem on it. Obama’s view on stem cell research is positive and he is of the opinion that there is no ethical problem to hinder the research on embryonic stem cells.

The issues that are discussed under the topic help one to have a clear idea of the motive behind it. The conclusions that are derived from the discussion of issues are at the side of human consideration. All these issues discussed prove the same fact that human cells and embryos are not to be exploited for economic benefit. But the progress of research must not be hindered by narrow views on ethics or morality.

References

  1. Medicina. Web.
  2. J.K. Findlay, M.L. Gear, P.J. Illingworth, S.M. Junk, G. Kay, A.H. Mackerras, A. Pope, H.S. Rothenfluh.Human embryo: a biological definition. Human Reproduction, Volume 22, Issue 4, 2007, Pages 905–911. Web.